After QIS2

The reflections about and videos of QIS2 are here!


We were fortunate enough to have a really crackerjack group of scholar-activists write posts on various forums about their time at QIS2. We resposted them on this site as an archive, and you can find them all below. Jessa and I (Jack) are making progress with other QIS2ers on our special issue and we will post here once there’s any news.

The tweets: Storify of #QIS2 Tweets


We recorded two of the day’s sessions, the panel of speakers sharing research and expertise on different facets of sexuality and digital media, and the keynote dialogue between Katherine Sender and Shaka McGlotten.  Also, we’ve gathered an awesome set of blog posts from attendees, feel free to check those out for more information about the day’s conversations and dialogues.

And the Gieseking Version: “What’s Queer @ Internet Studies Now?”

To recount my (Jack’s) own post

I had the blissful, joyous experience of co-organizing the second Queer Internet Studies Symposium with my dear friend and colleague, Jessa Lingel (Annenberg UPenn) this February 2017. I framed our opener to the conference as “What’s Queer @ Internet Studies Now?” so that Jessa and I could riff on that state of the field–a field defined by having this very meeting, as our participants told us! This post was originally shared on the UPenn Alice Paul Center website and newsletter. Check out the for posts from other attendees. A special issue on QIS is in the works! Jessa also shared our post on the Microsoft Social Media Collective, where I recently spent a truly fabulous week in the company of Mary Gray, Dan Green, Dylan Mulvey, Tarleton Gillespie, and Nancy Baym at MSRNE in Boston. This was another three year-previous parallel since my visit to Microsoft SMC in 2014 led to the co-creation of the first QIS with Jessa.

“What is Queer about Internet Studies Now?”

Jack Gieseking & Jessa Lingel

In 2005, David L. Eng, Judith Halberstam and José Esteban Muñoz wrote the introduction to a special issue of Social Text titled “What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?” Frustrated with the marriage and military-fixation of the modern lgbtq movement, the authors observed:

The contemporary mainstreaming of gay and lesbian identity—as a mass-mediated consumer lifestyle and embattled legal category—demands a renewed queer studies ever vigilant to the fact that sexuality is intersectional, not extraneous to other modes of difference, and calibrated to a firm understanding of queer as a political metaphor without a fixed referent. A renewed queer studies, moreover, insists on a broadened consideration of the late-twentieth-century global crises that have configured historical relations among political economies, the geopolitics of war and terror, and national manifestations of sexual, racial, and gendered hierarchies.

Twelve years later, we ask “What is Queer about Internet Studies Now?” as an anchoring question for Queer Internet Studies Symposium, organized by the Alice Paul Center and held at Penn’s Institute for Contemporary Art on February 17th, 2017.

The call for queer studies to intervene and interact has only increased since Eng, Halberstam, and Muñoz wrote over a decade ago. In part, this is because queer theory is no longer the domain of humanities scholarship alone. In part, queerness did not succumb to epic tides of homonormativity. In part, an After Marriage organizing movement has been galvanized in response to and alongisde movements like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL, and now NoBanNoWall, the Women’s March, and many more activisms to come.

Yet, Eng, Halberstam, and Muñoz’s call for what queer studies is and could be did lack one critical area for action: the internet. The goals and aims of QIS2 mimic those of the first QIS in 2014 at Columbia ( to connect, share, collaborate, and amplify the work and voices of scholars, artists, and activists on behalf of social justice. Bringing back QIS at Penn, we again wanted to queer the structure of the usual conference, and continueto build an interdisciplinary space that could foster conversations, provocations, and connections among artists, activists and academics.

We opened the day by inviting participants to break into groups for small discussions that could discuss key questions for the Symposium: What would a queer internet look like and how could we study it? Participants shared the questions and projects that brought them to QIS and began to talk about potential points of connection. We followed this with a research roundup, with five experts sharing their perspectives on a particular facet of queer media and technology: Mia Fischer (Colorado – Denver) talked about intersections between trans people and surveillance studies; Oliver Haimson (UC Irvine) described his work on trans identity and social media; Carmen Rios (Ms. And Autostraddle) spoke about online communities and feminist politics; Adrienne Shaw (Temple) talked about the LGBT games archive,;and Mitali Thakor (Northwestern) shared her work on digital vigilante-ism against sex trafficking. With both queer theory and internet studies, speaking from across a number of fields and disciplines, the research round up spoke to the breadth of possibilities for thinking about queer internet as both a research and policy agenda.

Artist and academic T.L. Cowan then led a participatory workshop called “Internet of Bodies/Internet of Bawdies.” Part theoretical inquiry, part brainstorming session and rapid prototyping exercise, the workshop offered an embodied means of working through sexuality, performativity and technological change for all attendees. Next, rather than a traditional keynote dialogue, we asked Katherine Sender (Michigan) to act as an interlocutor for Shaka McGlotten (SUNY Purchase). Their dialogue ranged from racism and desire to sped up and slowed down experiences of intimacy, from surveillance and performativity to social media platform politics. As a freeform conversation, Sender and McGlotten both addressed and reworked themes that had surfaced throughout the day around queerness, technology and desire. Our closing session focused on brainstorming a series of future projects and connections, which we hope to see develop in the coming weeks and months.

We close by noting that Eng, Halberstam, and Muñoz also wrote that “The operations of queer critique … can neither be decided on in advance nor be depended on in the future.” We planned QIS without a prediction of what participants would say or do, but we (Lingel and Gieseking) were both blown away by the excitement for making and sharing a space with, for, and about queerness. In the face of an uncertain, terrible, radical moment in history – never before have we bound so clearly to so many, looking back on a lgbtq movement history whose organizations repeatedly failed when failing to account for racial, gender, sexual, religious, ability differences. We seek to make our present and our futures differently, online and offline and across lines.

Queer Internet Studies 2.0, a Reflection

Our last reflection comes from Kalle Westerling, a Ph.D. Candidate in Theatre and a Futures Initiative Graduate Fellow, at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and Director of HASTAC Scholars, a vibrant student network within The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC). Currently, he is completing his dissertation on the history and aesthetics of male-identified bodies in 20th-century burlesque and 21st-century boylesque, “The Roots and Routes of Boylesque: Queering Male Striptease and Burlesque in New York City from 1930s Golden Age Burlesque to the New York Boylesque Festival in the 2010s.” The post was originally uploaded on Kalle’s site here.

Queer Internet Studies 2.0

Although I had a two-day migraine, I could not resist going to Jack Gieseking’s, Jessa Lingel’s, and Anne Esacove’s gathering of queer internet researchers from all over! When I arrived at the end of the first panel discussion, the second Queer Internet Studies Symposium audience was already abuzz with questions in the seminar room of The Institute of Contemporary Art at UPenn. We were all looking what “queer internet studies” might look like and mean for research, policy, and activist agendas.

The first Q&A session discussed many things, like:

  • Is hacking inherently queer? (No, it depends on what you are trying to do; queer hackers don’t make queer hacking; there’s queer potential in hacking).
  • Hack-a-thons produce a commercialization of “hacking” which often just has privilege and exclusion as result.
  • Hacking is only called hacking because there are certain people doing the work. In spaces where privilege is not, it’s not called hacking.
  • What are the histories of representation that queer kids have to engage with, who are getting into game design now? And how is this changing the landscape? (It is.)
  • What are the ethics of creating an archive online? How can we create archives not just for researchers but also search for responsibility in the academic work through our creation of archives?
  • The non-informational role of art.
  • The dual nature of the Internet. (We used to say “the Internet is so amazing” but then we need to remember that “a bunch of nazis” used the same algorithms that we do and won an election.)

A delicious lunch was served, catered from a local restaurant.

After lunch, T.L. Cowan presented a talk on ethical concerns when doing digital research, “Internet of Bodies/Bawdies—Trans-Feminist and Queer Community/Scene Protocols.

Cowan started out with a recognition of her position as settler and the stolen land where we all present our work. She also named all the collaborators and the practices from which her thoughts came, which was a really amazing moment and something I think a lot of us forget to do when we present our work. Here are a couple of notes from Cowan’s talk:

  • Internet of Bodies: the networked connection of bodies—ranging from wearables to Corporate Content Managers, and laborers in electronics manufacturing. But also the forced digitization and online publication (connectivity/searchability) of previously non-digital ephemera from Trans-Feminist and Queer community-based kink shows, porn, erotica, spoken word, cabaret, etc. — See Tara Robertson’s commentary on the digitization of On Our Backs (which eventually was removed from open-access but only to “protect the children”).
  • Development of Trans-Feminist and Queer (TFQ) community protocols: Queers and indigenous peoples should learn from each others. Specifically, in order to develop community protocols for what’s shared online, TFQ communities can learn from Mukurtu’s Traditional Knowledge labels.
  • Theory of “medial drag”: Theorizing the movement of certain content into different media posing answers to the question “What does it mean to do drag in media, but lose local community protocols?” I.e. What are correlation with 150 people in a room with me stripping out of a pink outfit and my expectation of privacy (public, advertised, announced in newspaper)? 150–300 people were in the room. But when it is published on YouTube or Vimeo, the video is available in a public setting and thousands of people can watch it without discrimination.

Cowan then moved into the maker-session part of her talk, where we focused on rapidly prototyping community protocols for TFQ digital archives available online, in four steps:

  1. Ask yourself: is there anything you have ever performed, published, spoken, or done “in public” that you would rather not have on the Internet?
    • What is it? (You may keep secret if you want.)
    • How do you keep it off the Internet?
    • What would you do if it got onto the Internet? (Take it down? Password-protect the content? Write and require the display of a contextual paragraph?)
  2. Now ask yourself: What kinds of TFQ events do you attend/scenes do you participate in?
    • What are the codes/community protocols of these events or scenes?
    • Do these codes/protocols extend to the way these events or scenes conduct themselves online?
    • To whom are you (or your research) accountable?
    • What are the competing logics, priorities or accountabilities at play in your scholarly practice?
  3. To your knowledge, have one of your posts on social media ever been used for a research or journalistic article? What does this shifted exposure feel like?
  4. Now divide yourselves into three teams: Team Jacob, Team Edward, and Team Data.
    • Team Jacob: How do you keep it off the Internet?
      • Rapid prototyping group on TFQ non-online archives—protocols for digitization and online circulation of our viscera and ephemera.
    • Team Edward: What would you do if something you did in a queer “public” got on the open access Internet and you didn’t want it there? How do we build TFQ protocols for permission/consent/agency/filter and our viscera and ephemera?
      • We can be in the archive AND the researcher = we have a position to think about this.
    • Team Data: What are some possible harms that can come from the mining, scraping, (re)circulation of TFQ born-digital materials? What are some benefits? Are there TFQ community protocols that we can implement for Data Ethnography, Ethics, re: QIS. Is there a TQ Harm Reduction Models?

After brainstorming in our respective groups, we went around the rooms in report-backs. Then, all of the drawing paper that the groups used were posted on the wall of the meeting room:

After Cowan’s maker-oriented part of the afternoon, Katherine Sender and Shaka McGlotten had a conversation around McGlotten’s recent work. Their conversation was oriented around four images. Some of my notes follow the pictures below.

  • Virtual Intimacies, and specifically “failed intimacies” (the topic of the last chapter of the book).
  • The book grew out of McGlotten’s dissertation work about public sex in Austin. The city was groomed as a new Silicon Valley, and were early adopters of new technology so McGlotten had an interest in its early geographies and materialities of technology. The book, then, focuses on how gay men “navigate social worlds in which the boundaries between real and virtual have been thoroughly confounded.”
  • Queers have resisted the “failed” intimacy that queerness is (in a heteronormative framework) through many strategies, like new kinship structures, forms of cohabitation. McGlotten finds potentiality in this failure (in Jack Halberstam’s word) or this excess and immanence (in Gilles Deleuze’s words).
  • Sender: When you say “sex publics”—what does that mean? Virtuality? Mediated?
    • Sex publics = engaged in sex together, often in public. Sex can always be made public. (Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner)
    • “Ghosting” example of new sexual practice. Phones as erotic objects. Foreplay is swiping/tapping/clicking.
    • Borrowing the terms “virtuality” from Deleuze but not completely faithful to him: it means both what he means (the more real than real) and the “digital” meaning of virtual.
    • Cruising encounters are mediated through virtual means.
    • There is never a time outside of neoliberal capitalism but there are spaces for intimacies. Chat rooms were based on text. Then there was a demand of a photo. Intensification/acceleration of neoliberal logic? Grindr was launched in 2009 and is a case study in neoliberalism – people are turned into a grid. Gamification as well – Tindr is a good example: “Do you want to keep playing?”
  • Sender: Gendered dimensions of hook-up apps. There’s speed, repetitivity. That’s how they make money. How to create apps for lesbians? Queer potentials, sure, but where are the frictions?
    • Bumble had a gate-keeping function.
    • Some other apps have been marketed as “not hook-up apps.”
    • Gay male socialities are fast. But “I wonder if the problem is really around temporality?”
    • What are the problems that developers are facing?
    • Socialities that made the web social – a lot of them were driven by AFAB. Gay men didn’t do it. Bandwidth of gay men is more narrow.
  • Sender: Let’s talk about this image (see above). Different forms of failed intimacies. Where did this picture come from? What failure and productivity came out of this?
    • The image comes from “Douchebags of Grindr”. Fatfobia, transphobia in these apps. I was interested in browsing—not everyone goes online to get off. There’s a logic of “going through.” Catfishing/baiting is looking to collect stuff – stories, images, douchebags…
    • Interesting ethics to the site – not widely published. Not stumble-upon.
    • Ethics here — screenshot of a screen posted on a website, printed in a book.
    • Maybe this has to do with narrow bandwidth – exclusionary practices built into gay male sociality.
    • When doing fieldwork on public sex (Sam Delany wrote about it), McGlotten had a sense that certain public sex spaces were more allowing than online spaces. Bersani: gay men’s sexuality is still ranked. But in any searchable app it’s more rampant — you can chosen what you want to see. In the bathhouse or toilet, you can’t choose who goes there: more potentiality there.

  • Sender: I want to move on to your more recent work. Zach Blas is messing with facial recognition data.
    • Algorithmic discrimination – codes themselves are reproducing racial
    • Black data — that work began and then I was thinking: black people have historically been operationalized data (commodity/revenue streams, insurance against theft, statistical deviations) = abstraction from humanity into data to consume.
    • In 2013 I thought of this. Snowden revelations came about. Then: mass surveillance, big data, biometric stuff.. Zach Blas’ work. Not just “datafication” of black people but also evoke things like black sites, black blocks, black box.
    • My ethnographic and archival research started with transwomen of color on YouTube: TS Madison, for instance, who creates these spaces online.
    • Amazing project: The Lab of Speculative Ethnology.
    • Returning to Afrofuturism as conceptual framework – to bring it forward in a way that it never seem to have been brought forward. I’m not alone in this. There has been proliferation of black queer studies, re-engagement in questions of tech. Even people like Kara Keeling. Affect theory conference in PA a couple of years ago, a whole stream of stuff on race. Theories of affect and tech in many ways.

[Image missing]

  • Sender: This is an image of anthropologist who composited data, found links between normative facial image and attempted to say something about the person, body, self. A really long project working with compiled data, asking: What is the face of the pervert, the queer, the person that it’s supposed to be. I want to ask you about what you think about the idea of publics. Portal phase is over (—now disaggregated content and material. Moving from print to portal to the algorithm as a form of organizing. How to think about publics and/or markets, when data is changing so much?
    • I think it’s easier now for marketers/companies to do data scraping where they had a small dataset before.
    • Predictive capacities of algorithms are important to think through. What does the gay market look like now? But going back to failure—I think of Grindr as failed. They’ve moved through a couple of phases. Majority sale. A couple of problems in terms of monetizing. Grindr was first free, then tiered system… The ecology of the app changed. Like chat rooms on – you could get dick faster than a pizza but then familiarity with people in the network, the network changes – the ecology. Lot of younger gay men don’t use Grindr, or migrate to other apps… Holding on to a market and accurately anticipate a market – part of it has to do that with the app and the impossibility of predicting the way your app will be used. Snapchat great example.
    • I’m more interested in hearing from you about what you think of this!
  • Sender: I’m interested in the coarseness of the algorithm, the physical market, the multiple intersectionalities… I don’t know what it means to study the gay market now.
  • Sender: The idea of the black box – masking, hiding – and how they may be strategies of resistance. Choice to be secret, hidden, unseen. Sam Delany again, you are much safer on a busy street in NYC than where you’re seen.
    • Highlights the double bind in reperesentation – increased visibility has resulted in increased normativity: trans folks is an example.
    • The logic of transparency is a western logic (something has to be seen to be real, true). Refusal: I don’t have to show you who I am (that’s how I know who I am).
    • I don’t want to argue against all forms of transparency…
    • Fantasy of sovereignty, neoliberal self-branding. We might need to go dark – use encryption. Refusal is a politics. But at the same time, my refusal against Facebook.

  • Sender: Porn-fast paper. Dense image. Activity-trackers, and about the erotics of activity-trackers. Particularly our obligations to be (appropriately) sexually active. Not just NO sex but connected sex toys. I want to hear you talk about the presentation of the neoliberal self: sexual enough, not too sexual…
    • This is part of the larger biopolitics of self-regulation and self-management.
    • I had found porn so boring or masturbating too much. It highlights ambivalence we have about sexual practices and new demand toward self-optimization (be the best you can be—monitor all your activity).
  • Sender: Fast porn—let’s turn it upside down: slow movement. Self-monitoring or improvement?
    • Both.
    • Cock Hero” [link NSFW]: Masturbation to the beat of music. Overlayed on pornographic material. Maybe its about slow porn / auto-erotic encounter but also regulatory because you’re getting told what to do (masochistic pleasure?).
  • Sender: Now I want to talk about the masturbation notice (see image above).
    • It wasn’t real. It was a hoax. Meme.
    • I can’t remember how it happened. Many of them; not just at Penn. Linked in the article to self-regulation. Some of the earliest medical tracks were against masturbation. It hailed to reflect on practices but also played on longer history of appropriate expression of sexuality. You also see it in development around sexual compulsivity and addiction.
  • Sender: Lastly, what are you working on now?
    • Two book projects (don’t try to do this!)
      1. Political Aesthetics of Drag. Working with a range of artists. Racial antipathy, gentrification, utility of drag (T.L.’s transmediality could be interesting here). Drag does both as we know from Butler. I’m not saying it’s either/or. Looking at specific case studies of artists who are using politics very specific. Politics include being unappealing or anti-transparency.
      2. Black data. Liberation. Chapters on artists, chapter on gaming.

The day ended after the conversation between Sender and McGlotten with a collaborative discussion focusing on the question “What outcomes do you want from this event?” The group then had a discussion around those keywords. Sadly, I had to leave as I had to catch a train back to New York City to make it back in time to another event.

Queer Visibility in Queer Internet Studies: A Reflection on QIS2

Jean Hardy is a PhD student at the University of Michigan School of Information. He is a member of the Tech. Culture. Matters. Research Collective, and co-convenes the Queer Science & Technology Studies Workshop. His research focuses on the intersection of rurality, computing, and sexuality. You can read his publications and blog on his website: We include his full reflection, “Queer Visibility in Queer Internet Studies,” below!


Opening with the question “What is queer about internet studies now?”, Jessa Lingel and Jack Jen Gieseking kicked off the second Queer Internet Studies Workshop, held at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the UPenn campus in Philadelphia.[1] Taking inspiration from topics such as porn, suicide, sex, and identity, we began the day with small group discussions about why we were attending and wrapping our minds around something like “the queer internet(s).” Following, a research panel convened with presentations on policing by non-police actors (Mitali Thakor), archiving queer games (Adrienne Shaw), self-disclosure during identity transitions (Oliver Haimson), transgender visibility (Mia Fischer), and community organizing online (Carmen Rios). These morning conversations primed us for an afternoon of critical engagement with each other around topics of digitzation and queer identity online during a hands-on workshop lead by TL Cowan. The day was capped by a rousing and inspirational conversation between Katherine Sender and Shaka McGlotten that spanned from questions of digital public sex to surveillance of workers. Throughout all of these conversations, visibility, and particularly the seemingly boundless visibility of artifacts, words, and/or feelings online, became a line through which I made connections.
In our first breakout group after Jessa and Jack’s introduction, I sat at a table with folks from a variety of backgrounds, from social computing to literary studies. Our conversation immediately turned to online communities and their features and affordances that support various forms of perceived safety. Facebook groups that are closed and/or secret have recently emerged into popular discourse, especially as it relates to political organizing in the wake of the election. Our table discussed how these groups feel safe but ultimately aren’t, that the visibility or invisibility afforded by their closed/secret status is tenuous as best (not to mention their place on a widely surveilled social network). Further, while these spaces may provide perceived notions of safety, people must have “an in” to get access in the first place, potentially leaving those most vulnerable out in the cold. It lead to this broader question of, what do we expect from platforms like Facebook that aren’t meant to be queer to begin with? Is it possible to design for security that ultimately doesn’t exist? And further, how do we cope with subjective security norms, values, and expectations when queerness has such a complicated history with visibility?
Many (most? all?) of the attendees benefitted from the visibility of queerness, of queer bodies in circulation through public media, in our own processes of understanding our sexual identities. In her description of the LGBTQ Game Archive, Adrienne Shaw described a need to make the LGBTQ characters and content of indie games visible in lists of queer game characters which frequently feature the same content over and over again. Additionally, she mentioned something that had come up in our small group conversation: the vanishing of technological queer artifacts from the 80s (e.g. queer indie games) that didn’t benefit from widely networked connection and distribution that started to emerge in the mid-90s. While Shaw and her team working on the LGBTQ Game Archive are trying to discover and make these queer artifacts visible, TL Cowan led an afternoon workshop inspired by the digitization of lesbian erotic magazine, On Our Backs, that questioned whether visibility is always a good thing. The digitization of something such as On Our Backs begs the question whether the folks who originally posed for photos and submitted to the magazine would have done so with the knowledge that these articles would be made easily available for the world to see. Cowan leveraged this to question visibility and strike the difference between queer disappearance as survival and queer disappearance as oblivion. While visibility indeed communicates needed knowledge, literacies, and subjectivities, invisibility is also just as important for the survival as queer people.
In my research with rural LGBT people in the midwest, I take inspiration from these conversations around visibility, and especially the politics of visibility. In Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America, Mary Gray asks readers to “consider how strategies of visibility that currently drive mainstream gay and lesbian social movements in the United States work out in the country” (4). Urban dominated discourses of the benefits of visibility to LGBT rights and political movements do not take into account the complexity of what it means to be visible in a small town where there are likely to be not only fewer LGBT-identified people, but drastically fewer people out of the closet. This is what Gray and others call, “the politics of visibility.” While those of us that do work in rural areas recognize that visibility operates differently depending on location, that also extends to increased calls of (forced) visibility on the Internet. We should continue to honor these calls around the complexities of visibility in order to not only acknowledge the silences (or oblivions) that may emerge in our research, but to also just recognize a basic queer condition: that visibility and safety are not always compatible.
[1.] This opening prompt was inspired by a 2005 issue of Social Text that asked the question, “What is queer about queer studies now?”

What’s queer about the internet now?, reflections from Jessa Lingel

Jessa Lingel is a social science researcher and information activist, and co-organized QIS1 and QIS2. She is an assistant professor at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to that, she was a post doctoral research fellow at Microsoft Research New England, working with the Social Media Collective (SMC). She received her Ph.D. in communication and information from Rutgers University. She has an MLIS from Pratt Institute and an M.A. from New York University. Her research interests include information inequalities and technological distributions of power. She also posted the text below on the SMC site earlier today.

What’s queer about the internet now?

This past month, I organized the Queer Internet Studies Workshop with my longtime friend and collaborator, Jack Gieseking, and Anne Esacove at the Alice Paul Center at UPenn.  This was the second QIS (the first was in 2014 at Columbia), and our plan was to organize a day long series of conversations, brainstorming sessions, panels, and chats dedicated to broaden thinking about the internet.  Rather than a formal conference of people presenting their research, QIS is intended (1) to identify what a queer internet might look like (2) to give a sense of research that’s being done in this area, and (3) to collaborate on artistic, activist and academic projects.We’ve been lucky to have folks post some terrific blog posts about the event, but here’s a quick recap.  After opening the day with group discussions about what queer internet studies might be and how (or whether) we could study it, a carefully curated group of researchers and activists shared their expertise in a facet of queerness and media.

  • Mia Fischer talked about intersections between trans people and surveillance studies.
  • Oliver Haimson described his work on trans identity and social media.
  • Carmen Rios spoke about online communities and feminist politics.
  • Adrienne Shaw  shared her work about building an LGBT games archive.
  • Mitali Thakor shared her work on digital vigilante-ism against sex trafficking.

Artist and academic TL Cowan led a participatory workshop called “Internet of Bodies/Internet of Bawdies.” Part theoretical inquiry, part brainstorming session, and rapid prototyping exercise, the workshop offered an embodied means of working through sexuality, performativity, and technological change.

Rather than a traditional keynote dialogue, we asked Katherine Sender to act as an interlocutor for Shaka McGlotten. Their dialogue ranged from racism and desire to sped up and slowed down experiences of intimacy, from surveillance and performativity to social media platform politics. As a freeform conversation, Sender and McGlotten both addressed and reworked themes that had surfaced throughout the day around queerness, technology, and desire.

We closed the day with breaking into groups to talk about outcomes, which included pooling resources to develop syllabuses and course materials, collaborating on a special issue, and developing best practices around respecting privacy and ownership of online content.  I’m excited to see where these plans and provocations end up in the coming months.  A huge thanks to my co-organizers, the attendees and speakers, and our sponsors.  In 2017, it’s clear that we need spaces for queerness and media provocation more than ever, it’s my hope that QIS can continue to be a space for those connections and creativity, both as a physical meetup and as a chance to build enduring social ties.

Attending QIS2: Being Here and Now, or Once upon a Time

Diana Anselmo-Sequeira is a postdoctoral fellow in Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently working on a book examining the fan practices and personal archives of the first generation of movie-loving girls to emerge in the United States. Her research on female adolescence and film history has been published in Cinema Journal, Spectator, several academic anthologies, and is forthcoming in Camera Obscura and Screen. She is also the coeditor of the anthology Girls’ Economies: Work and Play Cultures (University of Illinois Press, 2016) with Miriam Forman-Brunell. She generously shared this reflection with us on her visit to QIS2 as an attendee.


Full disclosure: I am a silent film historian. My work examines girls who went to the American movies in the 1910s and the fan objects they created as a means to articulate non- heteronormative desires and aspirations. So when I attended QIS2, my main goal was to look for connections and breakages between those girls’ early fan practices and current queer, girl- dominated, internet communities. What I found at this gathering was equal parts surprising and rewarding.

I discovered that the ethical and methodological questions haunting the reportage, archiving, and dissemination of personal queer materials produced in the past are not so very different from those produced in the present. There’s something indelibly galvanizing and daunting about studying queer people’s confessional media production, being their blog posts, their self- generated images, their yellowing love letters. I was reminded of that while having conversations at my table with a medley of queer activists, undergraduates, and professors. That writing about queerness is a collective endeavor, collaborative if usually solitary (and most academics will tell you that it’s a bittersweet solitude, always crowded by the echoey voices of your artifacts, your sources, your ancestors, your peers). But that is why gatherings such as QIS2 are so important, at least to me. Because in addition to the dynamic sharing of ideas and resources, they are also meeting points for the body when so much of academic life is lived in the mind, as is so much of everyday life in the digital, the abstract, the disembodied.

Panelists and participants further reminded me that by taking up queer studies as a field of study we are inherently pledging to a labor of responsibility, of intersectional allyship, and care-taking —that that’s the burden and pleasure of writing the history of marginalized people. This notion struck me the clearest while listening to Adrienne Shaw and Shaka McGlotten talk about their respective projects. While Adrienne is engaged in the vital and ever-expanding task of cataloguing all video games integrating LGBTQ content, Shaka interrogates the fast-changing digital interfaces mediating queer sexual encounters. Both wrestle with questions of ephemerality, of creating a legible repository and traceable history of queer desire, and both question the ways it surfaces in mass- and self-made representations. Both examine how technological innovation enables the elision and visibility of LGBTQ life-stories, their affects, their images. We diverge in our time periods, as in our media objects, but the joys and frustrations of recovering a presumed-lost video game or a particularly juicy Grindr profile remain exactly the same—exhilarating and raw, much like the fan production we, scholars on different sides of the historical continuum, exhume.

Full disclosure again: I am a covert introvert, which means I will put up a good impersonation of gregariousness only to mask a constant longing for being alone. Consequently, fellow attendees, participants and organizers may not be aware of how much I appreciated being part of this conversation, largely because I remain quiet and am the first to leave. Yet I very much did so, precisely because QIS2 tucked at those sharps you have forgotten are still lurking, those uncomfortable questions I have become so familiar with, I don’t pour over them as intensely Diana W. Anselmo QIS2 anymore. Mia Fischer at some point in her talk alerted to the dangers of extractive research, that razor edge taunting most scholars doing ethnographic, immersive, and/or audience reception work. Mia then mentioned that queer activism can come in discreet gestures like funding scholars, local activists and artists to present a talk, to speak about their projects. In the age of social networks regulated by massive exposure and numerals, one forgets activism does not always have to be signified by a nationwide campaign, have catchy slogans, be instagrammable. Sometimes it’s just about being mindful and nurturing towards the community around you.

I’m a queer historian of dead fans and an introvert, so that resonated deeply with me—the idea of fostering small mercies and small kindnesses, not only in our work, but in those laboring alongside us—being here and now, or once upon a time.

From Emma Stamm: Quantum Identities: Reflections on #QIS2

The post below was written by Emma Stamm, a writer, Ph.D. student, and instructor at Virginia Tech. Her research examines “future Internet” innovations through the lens of continental philosophy and media theory. Her website is and she tweets @turing_tests. We archive the full post below and you can find the original and other great content on Stamm’s other site:

Imagine you’re online and something unexpected happens. You see an image that you didn’t intend to see or come across a message intended for somebody that isn’t you. You have an encounter that, incidentally, helps you think through a personal problem. Maybe you try to visit a favorite website only to discover it’s down.

These innumerable little disjunctures happen to every one of us every day. (I’m assuming that, like me, you go online every day). We constantly reorient ourselves in relation to these occurrences, infinitesimal as they are. Because they are so small, we rarely bring our full awareness to the lived experience of each spatial recalibration as we traverse the virtual. A lot of contextualizing and self-localizing work goes into maintaining the integrity of our identity as we move.

Of course, to speak of “moving through” this world implies a plane, a certain dimension within which such motion occurs, which is no longer an accurate description. Now, online and offline spaces have interpenetrated one another too completely to speak of “the digital” as its own hermetic sphere. The phrase “going online” has an anachronistic ring — it sounds sweetly eventful, not unlike the ways people once described their living-room ceremonies of turning on the evening radio, or waiting for a newspaper delivery to hear about what happened in the world last night.

Those ritualizations, the formal self-inductions and discharges from a mediascape, have decayed into barely-noticeable (and hardly notable) gestures as the fact of being always-on has normalized. There is no traveling of which to make a ceremony, no “there” to visit to or “here” to re-enter. The famous Microsoft slogan where do you want to go today? wanes in marketable relatability with every passing year. (This is probably why it was decommissioned by the end of the ’90s).

If this sounds like a variation on the cliché of the inescapability of technology — it is. My work as a scholar and writer is, on one hand, to excavate the appearance of techno-determinism and show it for what it is: a genuinely remarkable phenomenon, something whose seeming inevitability should give us pause. On another hand, it’s to provide a theoretical framework for thinking ourselves outside of this cybernetic nexus, to envision a genuine exteriority to the formerly distinguishable, now-collapsed spaces of digital vs. IRL.

This is a staggering ambition, but I know that I’m not alone. Over the years I’ve found a community of technologists, scholars and creators who do this work. Their existence of has assured me that strategically casting technology in an unusual light is not only a worthwhile task, but one to which many, many people are devoting their time. This affirmative group, however, can be difficult to find if you don’t seek it out. It primarily exists on the social web, and as part of a recent pact with myself to spend less time in online communities, I’d somewhat lost touch with this dispersed group.

It was in hopes of reconnecting with other “weird technology” people that I found myself at the second Queer Internet Studies Symposium. Half conference, half participation-based workshop, QIS2’s events squared queer theory with internet studies to provide a new forum for inquiry, theorization and creative work. Although sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, its proceedings and speakers superseded that of academia-as-usual: the day featured lectures and activities on topics as far-ranging as the difficulties of studying child-porn prosecution, the history of gay video games, and the overlaps between queer and indigenous issues of visibility in online communities. Indeed, it reveled in this eclecticism.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, eclecticism is a foundational principle of queer Internet studies. When I tell people I’m in an interdisciplinary PhD program studying networked technology, I often find myself appending my already overly-long description with a few words on how the web is “inherently interdisciplinary.” By that I mean: it’s a subject that does not give itself entirely to one canonized research field or another. At QIS2, I found it easy to dispense with these prefatory remarks as I spoke with other attendees. Hearing about what urged both presenters and my fellow non-presenting participants to find their way to Philadelphia that weekend, a sense of ease washed over me as I realized I was in good company. Everybody had complex reasons for being there, and while most had found at least enough language to articulate these reasons, they were also motivated to attend by the possibility of building the critical mass of those who experience and communicate the digital through a queer lens.

Before I keep going, it’s probably useful to explain what I mean by “queer” in this specific scenario.

I quote Wikipedia:

Queer theory is a field of post-structuralist critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of queer studies and women’s studies. Queer theory includes both queer readings of texts and the theorisation of ‘queerness’ itself.

With full respect to the fact that it emerged from the lived experiences of those who identify as queer in terms of gender and sexual orientation, “queer theory” is also, importantly, a way to articulate difference in a more broad sense. I write of the digital through a queer lens because (as I mentioned) I want to make it appear strange — to counteract its insidious normalization. Queer perspectives, which reflect a non-normative and frequently (if regrettably) alienated relationship to oneself and one’s society, can offer us a lot in terms of rethinking the digital. Of course, there is no one way to approach queer Internet Studies. It is inherently diverse, and I think “weird Internet” professionals have a responsibility to expose themselves to alternative perspectives outside of their own experiential scope.

While I was not at the inaugural QIS, this was not my first time at a “queer” technology gathering. Crypto parties, hacker conferences and Theorizing The Web — events at which I’ve found myself somewhat regularly in recent years — all champion an unusual (if not downright radical) approach to the digital. One thing that often strikes me when I’m at weird-tech happenings is how subversive it feels to hear others speak on their experiences of digital disorientation: the hidden confusions and traumas along with moments of improbable grace borne through a screen darkly.

The unspoken etiquette of the social web rarely condones these divulgences, at least not beyond their trivialization in memes and appropriation in commercial advertisements. Considering this, there is something subversive about openly discussing profound experiences that we have online. Such conversations can identify you as still maintaining a psychic identity distinct from the network, since it means you’re capable of distancing yourself from your online experiences to the extent that you may analyze and communicate meaningfully about them.

QIS2 was replete with these moments of validation and communal bonding. Scholar and performance artist T.L. Cowan invited conference members to participate in the following thought experiment: what do you do in public that you would be absolutely opposing to having broadcast online? Immediately it occurred to me that I no longer do anything in public that I would be so absolutely opposed to having go online that I’d request a take-down (assuming such a demand could be satisfied). This is not because I’m an exhibitionist, but because I’m intractably aware of how many cameras and other recording devices surround me at all times. Such is the extent to which I’ve internalized the mechanisms of the surveillance state, but it took T.L.’s provocation to make me see it.

The deepest sense of communion I felt, however, was not in the moments of where my own private realities was reflected in the words of another, but through a decidedly scholarly connection with presenter Shaka McGlotten. After they gave a talk that veered from Afro-futurism and affect theory to Eastern religion, racism on dating apps, and Gilles Deleuze (this, by the way, is a very PG-rated summary of their talk) I asked them for their thoughts on maintaining a whole, cohesive sense of self when working with critical theory, gender and internet studies, all of which emphasize multiplicity and fragmentation under the sign of postmodernity.

This had been on my mind a bit recently, especially since critiques of capitalism haunt all of my work. The permeation of the digital in the “real world” mirrors the perpetual extension of capitalism in new spaces; mired in this strategic indistinction, the integrity of minds and identities — their wholeness, their irreducibility to means not determined by individuals themselves— seems to me to be more relevant over time. Trapped  between the poles of poststructuralist theory’s anti-essentialism and the need for integration in order to survive, theoretical interventions can help us triangulate a new way of speaking and thinking about our lives.

McGlotten’s articulations of his experiences as a writer on critical race studies, a spiritual person, and most certainly a weird/queer technology scholar, assured me that the queer lens can bring form to these seemingly irreconcilable realities. Inspired by McGlotten, I wrote down the phrase quantum identities in my notebook later on the day. A wordplay on the emerging field of quantum computing, which envisions computation beyond the binary construct of zero and one, I reflected on “quantum identities” as a way to conceive selves that are as flexible as one’s context demands, but which retain structural integrity at their core. Nonbinary, infinitely shapeshift-able, but essentially whole: quantum identities stay with us as we move across various dimensional fields, perhaps occasionally resistant to the languages of one or another, but always capable of informing our actions and ethics.

A writing professor once told me that poetry “makes language strange.” I think queer theory can be used to make computing strange. After all, code is language too. I have my own reasons to make tech strange; perhaps identifying yours can help you remember who you are, even as a rapidly-digitizing society may make you forget. Queer theory may inspire new forms of identity to keep one’s sense of self intact, even as the permeation of technology demands greater psychic leaps and bounds across spaces whose borders shift more rapidly than we can ever hope to notice. Call it an anti-alienation mechanism.

Storify of #QIS2 Tweets

Co-organized by Jessa Lingel, JackGieseking, and Anne Esacove, #QIS2 is the second Queer Internet StudiesSymposium, a space to share research, make art, organize activisms, and developan interdisciplinary conversation of what Queer Internet Studies might looklike and mean for research, policy, and activist agendas.

The Storify of #QIS2 tweets is below. Thanks so much to all of our speakers, panelists, and attendees who recorded #QIS2 ideas for the public!

Co-organized by Jessa Lingel, Jack Gieseking, the UPenn Alice Paul Center, and Anne Esacove, #QIS2 is the second Queer Internet Studies Symposium, a space to share research, make art, organize activisms, and develop an interdisciplinary conversation of what Queer Internet Studies might look like and mean for research, policy, and activist agendas.

Thank you for an incredible #QIS2!

We are grateful to our speakers, panelists, and attendees for what was truly an exciting and important conversation on what Queer Internet Studies is and might be. We are especially grateful to our sponsors who provided with a space, food, tech, and resources to make today’s event possible: UPenn’s Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality and Women, UPenn Annenberg’s School for Communication, School of Social Policy and Practice, Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication, Price Lab, LGBT Center, Women’s Center and Departments of English and History of Art, and the American Studies Program at Trinity College.

Since I, Jack, am writing this, I get to thank my co-organizers, Jessa and Anne, once more. You’re just fantastic. It’s an honor to work with you–and to keep working with you!